<< Portico: How long is long enough?

9/05/2005

How long is long enough?

Whenever someone says that they don't like a game, the title's fans will almost always ask the same question: "How long did you play it?". The questions takes many forms. "How far did you get?" "Do you have the x yet?" But the implications are the same. You cannot, apparently, have a valuable opinion on a game until you have played it to a certain point.

The question remains, where is this point? As a sometime game reviewer, I am duty bound to spend a lot more time playing some games I'm not enjoying than I would if it's just some collection filler from Ebay. When I tell my casual gaming friends the hours I put into a title that I gave two stars, they think I'm insane.

But, as a strategy gamer, I have to confess that many of the great games in my pet genre require a little more time to find the magic. Take Europa Universalis and its sequel - a title which I think is a modern classic. I was sucked in right away. Others need to put in more hours to be enchanted, so I fall back into the tired old advice to keep at it and ask questions if they need help.

Of course, if EU had come with a better manual, more people would get into it faster. And, even after all the extra time, I can't guarantee that everyone will like it.

I have two good casual gaming friends. In the last year or so, I've recommended three games to them in different contexts - Political Machine, Pirates!, and Rome: Total War. Both immediately got into the first two. They would come to lunch and we would talk about how tough Roosevelt was as an opponent or which Caribbean power had the hottest governors' daughters.

Rome was a split decision though. One guy loved it. He would be up until the wee hours of the morning playing. He would IM me with questions about how to beat scythed chariots. The other guy didn't. And the way he described it, he didn't seem to have played very much of it. Both had borrowed my disks, so there was no financial obligation to find something to like, and he admitted that he could see why we enjoyed it. But I was not convinced that he had given it a fair shot.

It became clear that he had played through the tutorial, including the intro "Unite Italy" campaign. Though an excellent tutorial for demonstrating the interface and how the game plays, like many good strategy games, the tutorial is only an appetizer for the main course - the Imperial Campaign with lots of generals and barbarians and elephants.

I know people who almost quit playing Baldur's Gate because it opened with lame FedEx and rat-killing quests. I've certainly quit playing some Euro-strategy games because I couldn't make the economy work. Does that disqualify me from saying that I think Anno 1602 is overrated?

Games are a strange thing. We would rightly ridicule someone who formed an opinion on a movie without seeing it, but games require a greater time investment. Should someone have to finish a RPG before they can have a strong opinion on it? Do we condemn our fellow gamers to hours of misery in a game they are not enjoying just so they can talk about it? In today's broadband world, should we require that our fellow gamers try out the multiplayer part of game in case they find that that is more their cup of tea?

So how long should we expect someone to play The Sims? Should a game grab you in the first two hours? What if it takes that long to figure out the relationships between items and units? Does it vary from genre to genre? Comment away.

3 Comments:

Anonymous steve said...

Many games have the fundamental flaw of starting out too slowly. I've always felt that an RPG would be better off starting with some super-duper battle, with all sorts of fancy effects, then scale back, then ramp back up.

Tutorials can be the death of strategy or FPS games; ones that mix them into actual gameplay are significantly more interesting. Halo did this incredibly well, as did the slightly more subtle opening for Half-Life 2. An alpha of Age of Empires III has a "you've never played" tutorial, but another where you go into a skirmish with some help (and a boneheaded, non-attacking AI). I'm not sure why they need the "you've never played" tutorial when they have the other. How many people are picking up Age of Empires III without any exposure to its predecessors?

9/07/2005 10:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From a different Steve

Steve, I agree with you on some levels. Sometimes, I wish games started out a bit faster. But, I always remember the Lion King on the SNES and Genesis. That game started out strong, then went down the crapper. I don't know if you want to give away your best stuff early. I think you should give either 1-2 hours, or through a tutorial or one level. I feel like I can get a feeling if a game can get better by then.

I'm sure there are some games that I miss out on, but if you can't grab me by then, I've got tons of games sitting on my shelf that I can have a great time with. I think FFVII started out slow, but showed signs of being solid. Some games (Bomberman Jetters) don't show this in the early going, so they don't make it.

9/07/2005 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous steve said...

In my theoretical game, you could have some absolutely killer opening, then build the player back up to that level.

So you might say, "Whoa, that was cool. I can't wait until I get back to that point."

Or you might say, "You took away the good stuff! Waaahhhhhh."

9/07/2005 04:58:00 PM  

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